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A Few Companies Helping Make Coffee Work for Rwanda (Happy Coffee Day)

September 30, 2011

Coffee cupping in Kigali

You say you want to help poor people, and your eye seems to be twitching. You might want to grab a coffee.

A couple months ago I was in Rwanda for work, work that fortunately for me has to do with Rwandan coffee – one of my favorite varietals. While in Rwanda, and since I’ve returned, I’ve been interested in the work of coffee companies in Rwanda to improve the quality of coffee cherries, which has the dual effects of giving me a really good cup of Rwanda Bourbon and increasing the take-home pay of Rwandan smallholder farmers. According to the US Agency for International Development, which funds the coffee project SPREAD in Rwanda, pay to farmers increased from 60-80 Rwandan Francs in 2004 to 160-180 francs in 2008 due to increased demand and improvements in quality. Here are a few of the companies that, as far as I can tell, are doing a pretty good job helping farmers improve the quality of the coffee they grow, and increase the price they’re paid to grow it:

Green Mountain Coffee: Green Mountain collaborated with USAID coffee projects, and has trained Rwandan cuppers, who ensure quality control before export. They also work with farming cooperatives in capacity building and helped broker the relationship between Kirkland Coffee and Rwandan cooperatives. In the last couple years, they’ve also partnered with the Clinton Foundation and Transfair USA to produce a Fair Trade blend. Here’s an overview of their work in Rwanda.

Intelligentsia: Intelligentsia is, first off, one of my favorite coffee companies in terms of quality and great varietals. They have also worked in Rwanda in partnership with USAID, on similar projects (sometimes the same projects) to those Green Mountain has done. Intelligentsia seems to be very hands-on organization, and their leadership does cool things like this and this. Also, Intelligentsia has direct trade relationships with coffee cooperatives in Rwanda.

Kirkland: Surprisingly, Costco’s Kirkland Coffee imports a serious volume of Rwandan coffee for its Rwanda French Roast, which is roasted by Green Mountain.  It’s also one of the two biggest American importers of Rwandan coffee (with Starbucks), according to an excellent Fast Company article.

Counter Culture Coffee: One interesting program that Counter Culture and other coffee companies have started in conjunction with USAID teaches farmers to roast their own coffee. The idea is that farmers’ specialty coffee is exported to developed countries, where consumers pay high prices for the coffee, but that Rwandan farmers rarely if ever taste their own product. Counter Culture and others provide simple kits that farmers can use to roast and brew their own coffee.

Thanksgiving Coffee: Thanksgiving has also been involved with USAID projects, does direct trade with Rwandan cooperatives, and also works with Bikes to Rwanda to help get bicycles to farmers, which helps them get their fresh beans to market or washing stations quicker.

 A couple more:

Union Hand Roasted:

Starbucks: Credit where credit is due: Starbucks has started a farmer training center and donated substantially to Rwandan coffee cooperatives. It also featured Rwandan coffee for its Black Apron varietal in 2008:

Stumptown Coffee Roasters:

Roger’s Family Coffee:

Finally, here are two coffee companies that work exclusively, or in large part, in Rwanda. Both seem to be doing good work. You can order both companies’ coffee online. Check em out:

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee:

Equal World Coffee:

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